The spyware row had nearly washed out last year's Monsoon Session, with the Opposition seeking a debate and a reply from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (LSTV/PTI Photo)
New Delhi: The Opposition parties plan to corner the government on a variety of issues in the Budget Session of Parliament which starts on Monday. The Congress, the principal Opposition, has sent feelers to other Opposition parties to unite against the government on some specific issues.
The Congress has highlighted issues like the Pegasus spyware leak, the Chinese military incursions, unemployment, the state of the economy, the sale of Air India and relief for Covid-19 victims. On Friday, Congress president Sonia Gandhi held a virtual meeting with senior party leaders of both Houses, comprising the Congress’ parliamentary strategy group.
The latest Pegasus spyware revelations have come as a shot in the arm for the Congress with a New York Times report claiming the spyware was sold to India as part of an India-Israel deal. The Congress wants categorical answers from the government over its role and it will press the matter during the Budget Session.
Information technology minister Ashwani Vaishnaw has already clarified the government’s position in the last sessions of Parliament. Congress’ Lok Sabha leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury wrote to Speaker Om Birla on Sunday demanding that a privilege motion be moved against Mr Vaishnaw for allegedly misleading the House on the Pegasus issue. The New York Times, in its report, claimed the Indian government bought the spyware in 2017 as part of a $2 billion package for weapons.
"In the light of the latest revelations by the New York Times, it appears that the Modi government has misled Parliament and the Supreme Court and lied to the people of India… In view of the above, I demand that a privilege motion may be initiated against the minister of information technology for deliberately misleading the House on the Pegasus issue," the Congress leader said in his letter to the Speaker. He also alleged that the government "lied to the Supreme Court when it was directly questioned about the purchase and deployment of Pegasus".
The government, however, is unlikely to accept a full debate on the Pegasus issue and might point out that a committee appointed by the Supreme Court was already looking into the matter. The spyware row had nearly washed out last year’s Monsoon Session, with the Opposition seeking a debate and a reply from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The unemployment figures will also be raised in the House by the Opposition parties. In the last session of Parliament, the Congress was mostly able to present a united Opposition front. In this session, several leaders will be busy as there are Assembly elections in five states.
In the first leg of the Budget Session, there will be just ten sittings till February 11, out of which the first day will be the President’s address to both the Houses and the tabling of the Economic Survey. On Tuesday, finance minister will present the Union Budget. The motion of thanks to the President’s address is expected to see fireworks as the Opposition leaders will be taking on the government. The government wants to see the smooth functioning of both Houses and has said it is ready to discuss issues that are raised by the Opposition parties.
Given the ongoing Covid-19 third wave, the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha will return to have separate sittings in shifts with members seated across both chambers of Parliament to ensure distancing norms. The Lok Sabha will take up the discussion on the motion of thanks from Wednesday and the Prime Minister is expected to reply to the debate on February 7.
Lok Sabha Secretariat officials said four days starting from February 2 have been provisionally allotted for the discussion on the motion of thanks on the President’s address. The session is being held amid a heated election campaign in five states -- Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa, and Manipur -- which go to polls in seven phases from February 10 to March 7.